ST. PETERSBURG — Story Stuart’s coffee shop was a landmark before it officially opened last year.
She had a gorgeous mural to thank for that. It became what her small cafe in the Old Southeast was known for: A man with thick-rimmed glasses sitting in front of an intricate geometric pattern beside the words "the casual fight."
"People would take pictures of their coffee in front of it," Stuart said.
It’s the main image that shows up when one looks up her quaint shop on Google. The painting — one of dozens that have become an essential piece of St. Petersburg’s identity — was completed just before her shop opened.
Now the word "HATER" is written across it and much of the mural is covered in gray paint.
It’s one of four of the city’s sprawling murals that vandals have destroyed since the beginning of the month, police said.
Who’s responsible? Police and business owners don’t know.
"It’s sad for us and the community," Stuart said from inside her shop on Thursday. "We’re a transitional area and the appearance of new art work … puts us on the map."
The damages are estimated in the thousands and thousands of dollars, police said.
Police released surveillance video that shows a man and woman carrying paint cans as they walk near muraled Planet Retro record store in the 200 block of Martin Luther King Jr. Street N.
Their faces are covered, but police are hopeful the video could lead them to the vandals’ identities.
Police said the vandalism to the record shop’s elaborate flower design happened sometime on Jan. 12.
The first incident was reported this month. Some time between Jan. 1 and 5, paint was thrown on an orange and blue warehouse mural at 2338 Emerson Ave. S. Police estimated the damage at $5,000.
Another report came from Stop & Shop at 432 First Ave. N, where a geometric mural was splashed with gray paint overnight between Jan. 13 and 14.
Between the next day and Jan. 17, gray paint and the word "HATER" showed up on the mural of a man at the Stuart’s shop: Story Brooke Craft Coffee Bar at 1437 Fourth St. S.
"The murals are a total loss artistically and a huge loss for the community," the Police Department wrote in a news release.
Stuart has heard rumblings in the community that the vandalism may be rooted in a feud among the artists’ fans.
The murals that were splattered with paint were mainly by local artists Jared "Thirst McFly" Hernandez and Sebastian Coolidge.
Police would not comment on whether some sort of feud could be a motive behind the vandalism.
Stuart said her shop celebrates its first anniversary this Saturday.
"Public art is supposed to be for everyone," she said. "If you have some personal vendetta, you shouldn’t take it out on the art because it means so much to the community and the city’s culture."
Anyone with information can call the St. Petersburg Police Department at (727) 893-7780.
Contact Sara DiNatale at [email protected] Follow @sara_dinatale.